News Off the Ball

Sunday 21 September 2014

Players have right to take stand on North v South issue

Off The Ball - Michael McCarthy

Published 20/11/2013 | 01:00

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Martin O'Neill

On Sunday's Off The Ball, Eamonn McCann, the Derry journalist and activist, expressed fears that Martin O'Neill's appointment might lead to more nationalists declaring for the Republic, thus widening divisions even further in the North.

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While it's true that an all-Protestant international team would be a disaster for football in Northern Ireland, it's hard to blame the players for defecting. Is playing for Northern Ireland really an attractive proposition for nationalists, especially when they must stand before 'God Save The Queen' in Windsor Park?

Paul McVeigh, a West Belfast-born former Northern Ireland international, thinks the anthem is a massive issue.

"Northern Ireland, as long as it continues with that anthem, will not have an identity of its own and players still continue to turn to the Republic.

"I have no doubt that it is a tough decision for some players to play at Windsor Park and stand before the English national anthem at Northern Ireland internationals," he said.

Cries of "No Surrender" could be heard clearly during the anthem before the Portugal game at Windsor Park recently. We expect too much of footballers who grew up in a divided community to simply "act professional" and accept that.

If Eamonn McCann's fears aren't to be realised, then maybe getting rid of 'God Save The Queen' as the pre-game rallying call might be a start. Until then, we shouldn't vilify players for refusing to play for a country they don't feel represents them.

Irish Independent

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